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Lisette Orellana

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remember that night ten years ago: the harsh lights on the ceiling and my craving for a Big Mac despite the pain. I put on a brave face — like this was no big deal. But I was terrified. Nurses came in and out of the room. One said: "Well, this sure is perfect timing. It's Mother's Day!" That fact hadn't even crossed my mind. All I knew was that a year before then I was decorating the gym for a 9th grade dance. A male nurse drew blood and asked: "So how old are you?" "Fifteen." I can still hear him gasp. "Oh dear God! I've got a daughter who's 14. I better find out who she's hanging out with." My boyfriend stared at the floor. I felt completely alone. And I was in a lot of pain. As the hours went by it hit me: Life had betrayed me. My future was over. I was a nobody.

Twelve hours later my baby daughter was born. She had black hair and eyes and weighed 7 pounds, 2 ounces. Later that afternoon I named her Gina.

rom first grade on, I was a bookworm and a straight A student. I wanted to make my mom proud. She was a housekeeper at a nursing home and worked 12 hours a day. At night when she got home she'd collapse on the sofa. Every day my mom gave me lunch money. I'd save most of it and secretly put it back in her purse.

My older sister got pregnant when I was 10. Mom cried for days. My sister was such a pillar for my mom, but she had let her down. Mom never smiled anymore and over time she began to change. Soon, no matter how many A's I brought home, it was never enough. But I studied harder. I even took an extra French class during my lunch hour. I rehearsed French conversations in my head as I helped prepare dinner. I wanted a different life than my sister. I wanted my mom to see that I was going to be somebody.

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n tenth grade I took honors classes in everything — including math. It was challenging, but I knew I could do it. In early Fall I started feeling really sick and missed several classes. Mom took me to her doctor. They ran tests, including a pregnancy test. I wasn't worried because I had been on the Pill for a year.

A day later, the doctor called and asked my mom and me to come to his office. And that's when he dropped the bombshell: I was pregnant. I was stunned. Mom screamed and said everything under the sun. She said she'd known that I'd get pregnant. Right there in the doctor's office she told me I wasn't allowed to live at home. That night I moved in with my 18-year-old boyfriend who had dropped out of school and was living in the basement of his parents' house.

I walked the school halls in a trance. I told my best friend, who cried. She said, "How could you be so stupid? How did you let this happen?" She was hurt and confused and just drifted away. Our dream of living together in Paris was over. I barely spoke with her again that year. I hid my pregnancy for another three months and rarely missed classes, but my friend's rejection crushed me.

I was a top student.
I didn't sleep around. I was a good girl.
I wasn't like the other girls who got pregnant.
I wondered if these facts would protect me.

hen I couldn't hide my belly any longer, I told my teachers one by one. Some had been my biggest cheerleaders. Now, several suggested I drop classes right away. And a couple questioned whether I'd even finish 10th grade. No one said "You can do it. And how can I help?" I felt invisible. What about my good standing? What about my hard work? Didn't that count for something?

I had to leave an honors English class early for a doctor's appointment one afternoon. As I passed through the door my teacher muttered: "I don't know why she even bothers to come to class. She's going nowhere." I used to love school. Now I started to dread it. Teachers rarely called on me. In the cafeteria I ran into girls who faked interest in how I was doing. But as soon as I turned my back, I heard their nasty comments. My name and drawings of my belly were scrawled on the girls' bathroom stalls. Words like "slut" and "whore" circled my name.

You've made your bed, now lie in it.
That's the message I got at school.
Several times a day I debated dropping out.
I kept showing up and doing my homework.
But I was on auto-pilot.

In April, a month before my delivery date, I requested a home teacher so I could keep up with my classmates before and after the birth. The principal said he wouldn't allow this...that I should just make up the work next year, if I returned. His response made me angry. I made a strong case for a home teacher and insisted on finishing my classes. Finally, after several attempts, I convinced the principal. Ten weeks later I surprised my teachers and myself by finishing final exams on time and with honors...and with a new baby girl.

Photo of Lisette Orellana

regnancy is a life-changer. I wouldn't recommend it to any high school student. I got through it — but largely on my own. In 2004 I finished high school — along with all my classmates — two years after my daughter's birth and less than a year after giving birth to my son. I'm still so proud of this accomplishment. I went on to graduate from college and now work full-time advocating for pregnant teens at a non-profit organization. I've come full circle. I help them jump over the hurdles and stay in school. I know what it's like to almost give up. Staying in school is a big challenge. But it shouldn't be so hard. Gina, my daughter, has just turned 10. When I look at her I see a beautiful girl who's smart, athletic and kind. Jeremy is 8. He's a friendly kid who loves trains. I want them to find success — on their own terms. I want them to be smarter than I ever was. I want them to be happy and feel proud of me.

Photo of Lisette Orellana and her son

is 25 years old. She grew up in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Ten years ago, Lisette's resolve and courage kept her going to classes — despite her school's lack of support. At the time she was not aware that there was a law — Title IX — that helps pregnant and parenting students stay in school. Now, Lisette spreads the word about this law to pregnant teens and educators — in her role as Director of External Relations at the Crittenton Services of Greater Washington.

Learn more about Title IX and how the National Women's Law Center can help you realize this law's full promise. Or, act now and get involved.